I quit my job to work on Fathom Analytics full timenews Jack Ellis · Apr 27, 2020
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a desire to build and run my own business. My first “business” was washing cars. I charged £5 per car wash (yes, those are Great British Pounds, Rule Britannia) and I remember doing door to door sales as a kid. I also remember how I was taught to keep track of my income & expenses. I even remember reaching a balance of £20 and being absolutely blown away. That was my first taste of what it was like to control your income. I no longer had to rely on any sort of allowance from my parents, I could simply work for money.
I grew up in a single-income household. My dad was unwell and I vividly remember my mum being made redundant multiple times at various jobs. Because of this, I think there was a large part of me that thought money would be the solution to all of our problems. If my dad needed some sort of assistance equipment, perhaps I could wash enough cars and pay for it. When my mum would lose her job, I would think that all these problems would go if I could become a millionaire. I soon realized that I’d have to wash a lot of cars if I wanted to be rich, so I bailed on the idea, but I walked away with a “money is the solution” mindset.
A few years later, I became interested in websites after playing an online game called Habbo Hotel (who remembers this?!). These games have fan sites, and I was very interested in creating one. Because of this, I ended up discovering HTML, and managed to find out how it all worked. I spent hours reading about it and writing it on paper during school (this was before every lesson was on computers). You couldn’t keep me focused in any lesson.
When I got home from school, I would practice my HTML by coding forms with 100 input fields. That went well until I started having computer issues. A friend had told me that putting a magnet on your computer motherboard would break it. I didn't believe him, so I took the computer apart and tried it. You can guess how that ended. Fortunately, we were given another computer shortly after that. I continued coding and retired the magnets.
At 15 years old, I was working on a membership site for someone who had paid me a few hundred pounds (God save the Queen). I skipped school and spent hundreds of hours building it. It gave me my first taste of the concept of equity/investors in a project. I was busting my ass for £300, growing equity for others, not myself. This was nearly 15 years ago and, long story short, the site got big, I was out of my depth and we couldn’t keep it online. I couldn’t handle the pressure, so I bailed. I breeze through this part of my story, but it left me with some deep mental scars. For every side project I would do from that point on, I would have analysis paralysis. I didn’t want to ship unless everything was “perfect”, which meant I never shipped.
In 2013, I spent 3 months accomplishing very little for my side project, Raw Gains, because I became obsessed with coding “the right way”. I remember writing out a bunch of spec tests, desperate to make sure I was doing “clean code” and doing it “the right way”. It’s hilarious to think back on this. Yes, I had clean code, and lots of spec tests, but my product was less than 5% complete. I’d rather have a reasonable amount of technical debt but with a project that was complete.
Fast forward to working with my co-founder, Paul Jarvis, I managed to get over my analysis paralysis. Whilst we were building our Medium competitor, Pico (acquired by Ghost), I learned to focus on what really matters, and we were able to build the entire product whilst we both worked on other things (Paul ran his course business & I worked full time on client work). Interestingly, up until working with Paul, I had always wanted 100% ownership of anything I was working on, because I thought “if there are two mouths to feed, it’s going to take twice as long”. I hadn’t realized that this mindset was the thing that was holding me back. I needed a teammate. I needed someone to bounce ideas off of, argue with and share responsibility with. Pico was the start of that.
In late 2018, as we were getting ready to launch Pico to a huge waiting list, Paul’s business partner Danny bailed on Fathom to become a teacher. Paul was in a bad position, as his expertise isn’t programming, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue the business. At the time, it was doing under $1,500 / month in monthly revenue. We had a tough conversation. Should we put Pico on the back burner? Should I take Danny’s place and build Fathom with Paul? We talked it out, and we decided to focus on Fathom. Mostly because Fathom was already generating some revenue whilst Pico was generating nothing. I converted the entire codebase from Go to PHP (Laravel) in about 2 months. I had to work on it alongside my main job, but we still managed to get it done. We then spent a large amount of 2019 building Version 2, the Fathom release that was going to take us from side-project to sustainable business, and a good alternative to Google Analytics.
As 2020 came around, it was becoming clear to me that I couldn’t handle my full time job and run Fathom, so I had to tell my main client that I couldn’t do it anymore. This was a huge jump for me, as I was moving away from reliable income and a really great client relationship with some great people who I really like.
You may have heard people say that it will be harder to quit your job once you have a family. I used to think this was nonsense, but it’s not. Because you have so many other things to consider, and your risk tolerance is lower when you have a spouse & kid. I had to wait until things were clearer with Fathom, and the revenue was high enough, before I made the jump. I had to opt for the lower risk approach. I’m okay with risking my time, but I’m not okay with risking financial security.
We don’t disclose our numbers publicly but our bet paid off, and we’re now making enough to pay ourselves to work on Fathom full time. This has been our goal from the start. I’ve been taking chunks of time off work to help get Fathom where it is, and I’m so happy with what we’ve accomplished.
One of the things I did to help my transition into full time Fathom work was to boost my savings, as it would help calm the risk-averse part of my brain. I worked my ass off on building my course, I didn’t see my wife for most of February, and I launched it early March. The course, Serverless Laravel, was an accumulation of everything I had learned from scaling Fathom & moving it to Laravel Vapor. I taught what I had an abundance of experience in. I was lucky enough to have great support from the community, and hundreds of people bought the course. When you’re moving to working full time on your startup, it’s good to have some financial padding, because various expenses can pop up expectedly.
So, what’s changed since I was a kid?
- I’ve learned that money is the solution for problems caused by money, not all problems.
- I’m not motivated by peer approval, I’m motivated by doing the right thing.
- I’m motivated about constant improvement for my craft.
For Fathom, my drive is to create the best product we can in a truly sustainable way.
As I write this, I look back on my journey and think about where I am today. I’m working full time running a SaaS company with a great business partner. How do I feel? Fantastic. I was fortunate enough to have learned the “process, not product” mindset when I was in my late teens, and I now enjoy the process, not the destination, so I am grateful every day. Running a SaaS is definitely a lot harder than I expected. There are challenges such as support, choosing which features to focus on (to keep it a simple analytics solution), accounting, compliance, marketing etc. But we’ve found that, with processes in place, we can stay on top of everything and continue to grow a successful business. We’re keeping with Paul’s Company of One approach to business, and have turned down bags of venture capital money that has been offered to us, which feels great, and we’ll continue to do right by our customers.
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Jack Ellis, CTO + teacher
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